Cherokee .28 Caliber Percussion Pistol

This .28-caliber percussion pistol with a distinctive underhammer design was made in Qualla Town, now Cherokee, North Carolina in 1843. Inscriptions in English and Cherokee identify it as the work of Salola, a blacksmith of the Oconaluftee Cherokee.
Underhammer pistols were popular from the mid-1830s until the Civil War. Sometimes called bootleg pistols, underhammers were easily constructed, were easy to carry and draw, offered an unobstructed line of sight for aiming, and provided a measure of safety from exploding percussion caps to the shooter's eyes.
This pistol was sent to the Patent Office in 1845 by William Holland Thomas as an example of the educational and industrial aptitude of the Cherokee people. A white trader in Qualla Town, Thomas learned the Cherokee language and was soon adopted by the tribe. He went on to become a lawyer and represented the Eastern Band of Cherokee as a state senator and as an advocate in Washington, D. C.
The pistol was held at the Patent Office until the opening of the Smithsonian's Arts & Industries Building in 1883.
Object Name
Date made
associated date
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
overall: 4 in x 11 1/2 in x 1 in; 10.16 cm x 29.21 cm x 2.54 cm
Place Made
United States
made at
United States: North Carolina
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Native Americans
related event
Expansion and Reform
See more items in
Armed Forces History: Armed Forces History, Military
National Treasures exhibit
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Cherokee Percussion Pistol
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL

Visitor Comments

6/26/2016 3:10:59 PM
Nicholas L Chandler
This underhammer pistol is a copy of a similar pistol made by Fordyce and Adin Ruggles.. Hardwick,Msee. ca 1826....'see Early American Underhammer Firearms, published by Mowbray in 2010. I suspect that the Native American gunmaker was shown one of these early model Ruggles pistol and used it as a model to make his pistol. Ruggles pistols were sold in towns and cities along the Eastern seaboard in the 1820s and 1830s.
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